MICHAEL Gove has hinted that if he becomes Prime Minister, he might relax powers to allow Holyrood more control over immigration to Scotland.

The Environment Secretary, appearing before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, referred to his comments on the subject during the 2016 EU referendum campaign when, asked how many people would be allowed to come to Scotland if the UK left the EU, replied: "It would be for Scotland to decide.”

He explained: "Because, under any proposals we put forward we believe that a points-based immigration policy, similar to the one that was actually put forward as a model for an independent Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, would be the right approach."

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Mr Gove added at the time: "One of the advantages of moving outside the EU is that we would be able, as a United Kingdom, to have control over immigration policy."

Appearing before MPs this week, he told them: “Jack McConnell exercised some flexibility during his time as FM. As an individual I am personally happy to explore with the devolved administrations the specific needs of their economy but what I mustn’t do is usurp the position of the Home Secretary and the PM on this.”

It is not current UK Government policy to devolve immigration powers. Earlier this year, David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said: “We are not minded to having a Scotland-specific immigration policy.”

He noted how UK and Scottish Government officials had instead set up a workstream “to look at whether there are other ways of…encouraging people to Scotland which are not at heart either current freedom of movement within the EU or devolving immigration.”

The SNP’s Pete Wishart, who chairs the committee, told Mr Gove how devolution of immigration to Quebec appeared to have worked perfectly well and that 60 per cent of responsibility for immigration rested at provincial level.

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The Secretary of State replied: “During the referendum campaign I was reflecting on a policy that Jack McConnell had followed but more broadly there are some aspects in the way Canada operates we would not want to necessarily apply here but there are many other things we would and I should say, of course, thinking of Canada, a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU would be emphatically in our interests.”

Last month when he appeared before MSPs, the Secretary of State said the UK Government should relax post-Brexit immigration rules to ensure foreign workers were attracted into Scotland’s fish processing industry. He also accepted that current plans for a £30,000 minimum salary threshold for skilled foreign workers did not suit the nation’s seafood sector.

Commenting for the SNP, Stuart McDonald, its immigration spokesman, told The Herald: "Gove said during the EU referendum campaign that Brexit would mean Scotland getting control over immigration.

"There is a wealth of evidence that the Tories' one-size-fits-no-one approach to immigration will hit businesses across Scotland after Brexit and fail to meet our demographic requirements - the argument for immigration powers to be fully devolved to the Scottish Government is clearer now than ever before.”

The Glasgow MP said differentiated migration systems could be easily run within the UK, as already happened in federations like Canada, and would allow Scotland to prioritise what its economy and society needed instead of having to abide by Tory rules that limited its potential.

"The UK Government decision to scrap the post-study work visa, against the overwhelming support for the scheme in Scotland, is just one example of why immigration policy made at Westminster does not meet Scotland's specific needs.

"Scotland needs full powers over migration; we cannot continue looking on while Tory immigration policy damages our communities,” added Mr McDonald.